Swann, Rendell clash on gun laws (PA)


October 11, 2006, 04:05 PM
More doings in PA . . . be glad you guys there have bipartisan pro-gun-owner legislators to counterbalance Fast eddie. . . .


Swann, Rendell clash on gun laws

The governor played to urban voters, his opponent to rural. Transit funding split the debaters similarly.
By Amy Worden
Inquirer Staff Writer

It was the battle for the bases in the final gubernatorial debate last night.

Gov. Rendell, aiming squarely at urban Democratic voters, hit hard on the need for stronger gun control laws and defended the need for dedicated transit funds, even if it meant raising the state sales tax.

Republican challenger Lynn Swann appealed to the state's rural pro-hunting population :rolleyes: , calling for better enforcement of existing gun laws and criticizing Rendell for allocating highway money to support public transit.

The rising rate of violent crime - an issue long plaguing Philadelphia but brought home to residents in smaller communities elsewhere with the Oct. 2 fatal shootings at a Lancaster County Amish school - dominated the second and final gubernatorial debate.

The stark differences between the positions of Rendell, who supports handgun control measures, and Swann, who opposes any gun purchase limits, were made clear during the hour-long exchange at the studios of 6ABC in Philadelphia. Unlike their testy exchange last week in Pittsburgh, it was more like lively cocktail party banter than down-and-dirty politicking.

Echoing the pleas of Philadelphia Democratic state lawmakers who last week failed in their effort to win support for any gun control measures in the General Assembly, Rendell said limits were the only way to curb so-called straw purchasers, who buy guns legally and sell them to criminals.

"We need sensible laws to control the distribution of guns," Rendell said, calling on Swann twice to join him in helping win passage of "commonsense gun laws" in Harrisburg.

Swann, who did not respond to Rendell's challenge, said he agreed that something needed to be done to reduce the number of straw purchasers, but he said it had to be done through better enforcement of existing laws.

"It's not the actual gun, it's the person who has the gun," Swann said. "We have to make sure straw purchasers are locked up."

Health-insurance coverage, property taxes, government reform, education, and the environment were among the other topics covered in the final debate before the Nov. 7 election, as Rendell played up his 25-year career as a public servant and Swann, the former Pittsburgh Steelers star, made the argument that Pennsylvania needs a "citizen governor," saying experience does not always translate into getting things accomplished.

The debate came as bad news was mounting for Swann, who has been unable to make headway in the polls or in fund-raising. A poll released yesterday by the Morning Call of Allentown and Muhlenberg College showed Rendell with a 21-point lead. The telephone poll was conducted Oct. 3 through Sunday. Independent national campaign handicapper Stu Rothenberg pronounced the race a "blowout" for Rendell.

Also yesterday, the Rocky Mountain News reported that the Republican Governors Association, an important source of campaign funding for gubernatorial candidates, was offering free airfare to volunteers willing to help candidates in close races in several states, but Pennsylvania was not among them. Swann has received $250,000 to date from the association; by contrast, Rendell received more than $500,000 from the Democratic Governors Association.

Swann's main point of attack was the ill-fated legislative pay raise, repealed after a firestorm of public outrage, and government reform. After Rendell again admitted that signing the pay-raise bill into law was a mistake, Swann accused him of playing a major role in orchestrating the controversial raise and said he dragged his heels on government reform.

"It was more than a mistake," Swann said. "It's misleading to say he wasn't part of it. It goes to the operation and mind-set of the administration and how it leads."

Both candidates said they would support reducing the size of the legislature and setting term limits for lawmakers.

After the debate, Swann's spokesman, Leonardo Alcivar, angrily called Rendell's challenge to Swann to join him at a news conference calling on the legislature to pass a one-handgun-a-month law "a cheap political trick." Rendell denied it was a trick, saying his request was "born out of frustration" with the defeat of gun control proposals in Harrisburg last week.

Panelist Vernon Odom of 6ABC asked the candidates where they stood on the impending loss of the Philadelphia Zoo's beloved elephants.

Swann said, "We need to get some elephants back." Rendell said he wanted to funnel a percentage of the surplus from state liquor sales to support more arts and culture programs across the state.

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